x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Williams dreaming of days at the front

The British Formula One team have not won their home race for 14 years but a new deal with Renault has given them hope.

Sir Frank Williams’s team are optimistic a new deal with Renault will allow them to compete at the front end of the grid again.
Sir Frank Williams’s team are optimistic a new deal with Renault will allow them to compete at the front end of the grid again.

It is 14 years since Jacques Villeneuve won at Silverstone to hand Williams their 10th British Grand Prix triumph.

The Canadian's victory meant Sir Frank Williams's illustrious team had won more Formula One races in England than any other team. Record success at their home grand prix was understandably a moment of joy for the Oxfordshire-based outfit.

Since then, however, the team has appeared on almost a permanent decline. And it is little surprise that the downwards spiral pivoted on the end of their partnership with Renault, as well as the decision by Adrian Newey, the team's revered engineer, to move to McLaren at the end of 1997.

Thirteen seasons later and both McLaren and Ferrari have bettered Williams's British Grand Prix record, taking their respective totals to 14 victories each.

Meanwhile, not since 2003 has a driver of the famous blue and white liveried car managed a step on the podium. Yet, thanks to an announcement made earlier this week, hope is fostering that the dark days may soon be over.

On Monday, Williams announced they had signed a long-term chassis-engine partnership with Renault starting next season, sparking nostalgia in the paddock. Sir Jackie Stewart, the venerated former world champion, spoke of his admiration for both parties.

"It is very good that Renault committed to another team for at least another two years," Stewart said.

"Renault is a very important company in the history of motorsport: they were here when motorsport began. And I don't mean modern grand prix racing; as soon as the horseless carriage arrived, Renault arrived."

Frank Williams, 69, the founder and manager of the eponymous team and one of the few men in the paddock who was involved in Formula One when Stewart was winning his three world championships, in 1969, 1971 and 1973, said he was "more concerned than I am excited".

He said Renault "might be a bit disappointed that they are not going to get back what they last knew [all those] years ago", Williams said yesterday.

"We're not quite as top a team as we were back then, but it is a wonderful opportunity for us to regain our momentum.

"When you ally with a manufacturer, they can provide facilities that we cannot afford ourselves and little facilities make a big difference: you gain a 10th here and a 10th there and that is what we hope will happen."

In yesterday's practice, the blustery and wet conditions hampered preparations for tomorrow's race, but Rubens Barrichello still managed to finish third-fastest in the morning and eighth in the afternoon.

The Brazilian, 39, conceded work remains to be done, but he is keen to extend his contract into next season. When the announcement was made on Monday, Barrichello wrote on his Twitter account: "Now I just need to sign my contract, right Frank?"

Williams responded yesterday, saying that the team have yet to decide on the future of either Barrichello or Pastor Maldonado, his teammate, but added that "Rubens is very highly regarded and is truly a treasure trove of experience and information.

"That is something that will not be thrown away lightly. If we had given him a better car I think he could have been, if not at the front, very close to the front. He is a superb driver."

Barrichello, who is competing in his 316th grand prix and his 19th British race this weekend, added that he was "thrilled that Williams [are] working very hard to get back to the top" and, having visited the team's factory twice this week, he has been "very impressed" by the attitude.

"[I said] a couple of months ago that I needed Williams to get their act together and do things, and they are, so I am very proud of that and it's going in the right direction as far as next year is concerned."

Adam Parr, the Williams chairman, said the Renault deal would not mean extra pressure on Barrichello or Maldonado as the team always puts the highest pressure on themselves.

But he did concede that improvement is expected.

"We're not satisfied with just finishing races or picking up a few points," he said.

"Our aim is to win and we want to put ourselves back in a position to do so. Clearly, our performance at the moment is not where would like it to be, but we are doing all we can to rectify that.

"This partnership is another step in that process. This partnership is about the future. In a sense, it is about earning the right to inherit the past."

Williams won their first Formula One race at the 1979 British Grand Prix. With a past such as theirs, it is little wonder this weekend feels all the more special for those close to the team.

"I love Frank Williams," Stewart said, "So I would love to see them more competitive."